The Central Lakes College production of "Macbeth," which opens tonight, will usher in a new era for area theater fans.
For the audience, the most obvious symptoms of change include lower ticket prices and an all-student cast, absent the non-student, adult community actors who have populated CLC productions in the past.
But even the CLC Theatre Department's decision to stage the Shakespearean classic suggests a directional change that began with a key administrative decision late last year.
From now on, CLC stage productions will be underwritten by the college's annual budget, rather than through a combination of ticket sales and private donations.
The decision prompted an immediate shift by the department toward "commercially risky" productions, such as "Macbeth" and others in the 2002-2003 CLC theater season.
It also meant that directors could focus more on the academic value of the college's staged offerings, perhaps at the expense of seasoned community players who have not enrolled in CLC theater classes.
In fact, not a single community actor showed up to audition for "Macbeth," said director Patrick Spradlin, a development he blamed on several factors other than the department's budgetary changes.
But the all-student casting seems to confirm many community actors' worst fears, some of whom banded together to create their own theater troupe earlier this year in response to these concerns.
The On Stage Community Theater Troupe -- founded amid concern "that there wouldn't be any place to act in Brainerd," one founding member said -- debuted earlier this month with the musical "Annie."
Spradlin said this week, however, that the casting was "purely happenstance," the absence of community actors "more a function of it being Shakespeare" and competition for their services by the On Stage debut.
"The casting for the show follows the same pattern I've always followed, trying to cast the best actors for each role," the CLC director said. "And it will continue to be that way.
"The biggest change has been in our funding structure, which has had no effect on our operations per se, except in our business operations," he added.
Usually $10-$12 for adult admission, ticket prices have been reduced to $5 for the public, with free admission for all CLC students, Spradlin said, adding that the ticket-price decision was made by the college administration to accommodate the new funding structure.
Free admission will encourage students of other disciplines -- those who are studying Shakespeare in their literature classes, for example -- to attend the play, he said.
But most important, Shakespearean drama is the hallmark of any good academic training in the theater, Spradlin said, a major factor in selecting "Macbeth" for this theater season.
"It's a great training tool and to not be exposed to this kind of dramatic literature is the equivalent of walking away from college with a sham degree," Spradlin said. "The absence of the classics is like finding a physician who never studied anatomy."
Spradlin promised a high-quality production consistent with past CLC theatrical efforts, despite the all-student casting, he said.
The director blamed community players' concerns about the future availability of roles on an unfounded rumor that emerged late last year, just as the department was considering changes in its theater schedule.
"We (the department) kicked around an idea of requiring actors to enroll in a one-credit theater course in order to be cast," he said, "but we quickly dropped the idea. It will take community players some time to realize this."
Spradlin said the CLC production of "Going to See the Elephant," which opens Nov. 19, will include a couple of community actors, one in the lead role -- evidence that the all-student cast for "Macbeth" is an aberration.
"For the most part all of our actors are amateurs, whether student or community players," he said. "As Bob Dryden (former CLC director) once said, 'We are not professionals, but amateurs who strive to do professional work.'"
"Macbeth" is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday and Oct. 31-Nov. 2, with a 2 p.m. performance Sunday and a midnight showing Oct. 31. For reservations, call 855-8218.
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